Easter in Trieste is beautiful, the fruit trees are ending their bloom and spreading their last blossoms, like confetti, on the passersby. Cascades of wisteria pour over terrace railings, pergolas and retaining walls of villas perched on Via Commerciale. And everywhere the scent of jasmine and blossoming laurel grows more intoxicating as the sun gets warmer.
The week between Palm and Easter Sundays, you can feel the anticipation in the air with families buying hordes of chocolate eggs filled with surprises for children, placing their orders with the local butcher or the ubiquitous Mase’ (a Delicatessen-chain specializing in Triestine favorites — cooked hams in particular) and people firing up their kitchens to bake their favorite Easter recipes and cakes.
I love Easter in Trieste because that is the ONLY time of year you will find the Titola.
The titola appears alongside other favored Easter desserts: the national favorite Italian Easter staple, LA COLOMBA; the traditional version is a dove shaped cake, dotted with a few candied fruits (a la Panettone) on the inside and covered in a crust of sugar and almonds. Nowadays it is churned out by large industrial bakeries in a multitude of varieties. Then there’s the Pinza, the semi-sweet boule which is so loved by the Triestines that it is actually available all year long — it is often eaten at breakfast like a pan-dulce. It’s shaped to recall the sponge used by the Roman soldiers to make Christ drink the sour wine on the cross. Then there’s the Presnitz, another Triestine favorite, a fruit and nut filled cake that is shaped to recall the crown of thorns.
Then there is the Titola. Very similar to Challah, it is lightly sweet, airy, moist and buttery. Like most things in Trieste, the Titola, (as evidenced by it’s appearance and flavor) was probably adapted from any number of the religious and culinary traditions of the immigrants who settled here: from the Greeks “Tsoureki”, the Jews “Challah”, the Arabs “Panarët”, the Armenians Chorek, the Azerbaijani Çörək , the Bulgarians козунак (Kozunak), the Romanians Cozonac or the Turks Çörek. All of them Easter breads in one form or another.
The form of the Titola is a little different from other Easter breads; the shape is meant to recall the nails that were driven into the Cross and the egg, traditionally, was always red to symbolize the blood of Christ. Nowadays you find them with a variety of colored eggs.
Triestines INSIST it is the same exact recipe as the one used for the Pinza. To me they taste ENTIRELY different. Perhaps the look of it just brings me back to that place in my tastebuds where I am little and tasting the Easter bread our Armenian neighbor used to make for us — whatever the reason, to me, the Titola is a little sweeter, more moist and more delicious. But who am I to argue? In fact, if you go looking or asking (as I did) you will not find ANY recipe for Titola, only Pinza recipes.
Tiziana Bizjak moderator of the Triestine cooking FB group COSSA CUSINO OGGI? (WHAT AM I COOKING TODAY?) very generously shared the handwritten recipe for Pinza passed down to her by her grandmother Antonia Mezgec Bizjak (class of 1894), which was also used for making Titola.
Here is an English translation of the widely approved recipe for the Pinza. It is quite a long and involved process. Personally, I think you could use a basic Challah recipe adding some rum, some vanilla, using butter instead of oil and maybe add some orange zest (but don’t let them know I said that).
However, if you want the authentic experience and flavors, then the best is to be in Trieste, at Easter, enjoying the springtime flowers, the azure Adriatic and your bakery-bought Titola!